Favourite Son: Hideki Matsuyama, wins the Zozo Championship, the PGA Tour’s first stop in Japan

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October 31, 2021 5:30 AM

I wasn’t surprised, when after holing a blinder on the final day to wrest the lead, Matsuyama just grabbed the title and stepped on the gas, taking it far out of reach of the chasing pack.

World No 1., Jin Young Ko's 'old-fashioned 'turning within a barrel' golf swingWorld No 1., Jin Young Ko's 'old-fashioned 'turning within a barrel' golf swing

For a man who likes to fly under the radar, last week’s Zozo Championship posed a significant challenge. Small mercy, then, that Hideki Matsuyama, the reticent Japanese player and Masters Champion, already has some practice shouldering the expectations of a golf-crazy nation, in an event played on home soil. And if the memory of his last outing—the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in which Matysuyama was eliminated in a playoff—still hurts, then the 26-year-old certainly used the near-win as inspiration to play his very best. As we’ve seen over the past few seasons—when, the man with the pause at the top of his backswing, gets on song, then he’s very hard to fault, and near impossible to keep up with. I wasn’t surprised, when after holing a blinder on the final day to wrest the lead, Matsuyama just grabbed the title and stepped on the gas, taking it far out of reach of the chasing pack.

For detractors who might point to a less than full-field; there’s no such thing on the PGA Tour these days. With top-leaguers like Olympics gold medallist Xander Schauffele (who took the crown Matsuyama so dearly wanted), a resurgent Rickie Fowler—who finally signalled a return to form by nearly winning the CJ Cup in Las Vegas recently—amongst a smorgasbord of top-ranked players, it was hardly a walk in the park for Matsuyama. Especially because the event was in Japan—home advantage works the other way here. For those who may not understand the unique social pressure that the Japanese face, to succeed, not just for themselves, but for the country, Matsuyama’s victory was a spectacular affirmation of the player’s coming of age. With this monkey off his back, don’t be surprised if he goes on a tear now.

Fowler nearly won the CJ Cup, and that coming after almost two seasons in the cold during which the young player has been working on his golf swing, is great to see. Fowler takes the appeal of the game to the millennials—the game needs him almost as much as he needs the game.

Moving on, on checking the LPGA Order of Merit, I was surprised to see that Korean Jin Young Ko has won the Race to CME and finished the season as the top-ranked lady golfer of the world. Now I’ll admit that I check the LPGA site not just to get up to date on news and events but also to see emerging players whose golf swings I could watch. The one thing I understood a long time back was that it’s a much better idea to watch lady pros to get a sense of golf swing rhythm and tempo than the men, who, at least for the last few years, pound the ball. For those who don’t subscribe to that line of thought, may I suggest a quick look at Ko’s golf swing, and not just for the reasons I mentioned.

Ko has a unique action, modelled on what the old Scottish pros used to say about ‘turning in a barrel.’ She stays absolutely centred on the golf ball throughout the swing; her weight never goes beyond the insides of her feet on either side, and her spine angle just stays incredibly constant. I wouldn’t advise trying to copy Ko’s swing: she obviously has incredible lower body strength to be able to swing the way she does. But it’s a great illustration of how it doesn’t matter anymore what swing technique you subscribe to—whatever and however you swing, just get the job done. Consistently.

It’s a good time to get your swing back in shape too; what with gorgeous pre-winter days in the Capital, and that perfect sweet spot of the year when all you want to do is get out and play.

I’ve been going through a bit of a lean patch lately when it comes to scoring—a battle that led me to juggle between my ancient Ping Zing beryllium copper clubs, my modern Titleist AP2s and now back to my TaylorMade MBs—in search of clubs that will get my mojo back. Finally, it came to me a few days back while watching Ko’s swing: I can’t stay that stable on the ball, but if I just try and watch the ball, till it’s gone, then at least it gets somewhere! I know, we’ve heard that a million times, but in golf, it’s the simple things that we forget, and it’s the small things that make a huge difference. As the corporate golf season begins, I’m hoping that I, as all of you, post the covid-imposed hiatus, will be in fine nick.

On a completely different note, I recently came across news about Mauritius reopening to Indian tourists. For those who’ve never played golf in archipelagos in the Indian Ocean, I can’t emphasise enough the golfing credentials of the Seychelles and Mauritius. Both are Valhallas, rife with all kinds of golf courses, and holiday resorts, but Mauritius is significantly less expensive to visit and play. The island nation is also, somewhat bizarrely, familiar to Indians who find themselves in a foreign country populated extensively by the Indian diaspora. I’ll stop here—golf travel in those parts needs a write-up of its own. Coming out of that reverie, I wonder if I’m jinxing things by dreaming of playing golf on foreign shores again. Fingers interlocked folks.

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game

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